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Nivedita Desai – Empowering Other Women

A year later, Women’s Day is here again and while there is much said about why women don’t need a token day, and why the women who actually need it are still being neglected, there are women who have taken things in their own hands and are trying to empower other women too. One such is Nivedita Desai.

Nivedita is a fitness enthusiast who has a passion for running and has completed the full marathon and half marathon a number of times. Apart from that she is the Managing Trustee of Animedh Charitable Trust. She focuses on the transformation to underprivileged girls and women in India. Her role is to mobilize donations, enlist girls and women into various educational and vocational programs and empower them to be educated, confident and economically independent. She has been running since many years and has done many half and Full marathons! It will always be her passion and a way of life.  A recreational long distance runner, has finished over 10 half marathons and 4 full marathons at the age of 52 and trains regularly with Lokhandwala Running Club (LRC).  She also recently won an award- by the Rotary Club of Bombay- Juhu Beach, who partner with ACT for some women empowerment and children’s education programmes, for a recognition award for ACT’s work on women empowerment.

After 25+ years of a professional career with international organisations, Nivedita has evolved towards philanthropy. She has been working since 1985, across sales, marketing, project management, and category development in varied industries like fragrances & flavours, office automation & direct marketing. Nivedita is a Chemistry graduate with a Master’s degree in Marketing Management from Mumbai University. Her interest in philanthropy led her to explore various humanities-based online courses like ‘Giving with Purpose’, ‘How to Change the World’, and ‘Social Psychology’ offered by reputed international schools. As Managing Trustee of Animedh Charitable Trust, Nivedita focuses on the transformation of underprivileged girls and women in India. Her role is to mobilize donations, enlist girls and women into various educational and vocational programs and empower them to be educated, confident and economically independent. Nivedita says, “In my work, I gained the insight that doing the simple, little things add up to the big things in the lives of the needy girls and women, which inspires them to transform their future.”

Animedh Charitable Trust or  ACT is a universe full of love hope and joy to all it shelters. We work with needy and underprivileged girls and women for empowerment through education and vocational skills and livelihoods. My husband, Mehul who is also a Trustee, first suggested that as a family, we have always been blessed with abundance and we in turn, have been doing different acts of giving which have been through worthy NGOs and platforms. Why not do it directly by being fully involved as a family,  with one of us driving it full time. Quite propitiously, the time was right for me as I stepped back from a professional career and was keen to give back in my own way. That was in  2012, and now, five years later by the grace of God and all our supporters, donors, corporate partners and volunteers & champions we’ve come along quite a distance in terms of 15-16 educational and vocational centres, transformed or touched the lives of 2138 children and 1212 women and score of volunteers and supporters. Recently, we have expanded our footprint on education and vocational empowerment causes, in rural and Adivasi communities in the border villages of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Dadra Nagar Haveli (DNH).

Speaking about challenges faced by ACH, Desai told me, “The major challenge is that there is so much to be done for upliftment  among girls and women and raising their esteem within society; this can happen only with 360 degree transformation, but we at ACT are limited and focussed to the areas of education and vocational development. What about the other challenges in their lives? How can they be lead out of their personal barriers to emerge victorious and take control of their destiny? Hence, we work with numerous other credible NGOs and enablers to provide more holistic support to the women in the other areas. We also provide them with soft skills to build self confidence and assertiveness, to take charge of their own lives and become role models for others to follow.” Of the 2138 children enabled for education at ACT, 70% represent girls. So that’s about 1700+. We conduct after school study support, fee sponsorships for basic and higher education, provide creative learning skills for accelerated learning, Computer education, English Speaking, career course sponsorships, vocational skills, support for slow learners, training for differently abled children,  etc. 

We have learnt how Nivedita helps others. But to do that, she needs to sustain herself. And for that, Nivedita runs. A fitness junkie, she has been a runner for a long time and says, “My fitness journey started long long ago, in fact I’ve been actively pursuing sports all through my life, whether it was galli cricket, or throw ball or track and field athletics- I was never a topper, but I kept at it and then as I became older, I took to racquet games- badminton, tennis, squash, et al and later during my professional stint in Singapore, I did water sports like wake boarding, etc.  Finally, in 2004,  i took to running thanks to some expat colleagues and I’ve never looked back since.  Mind you, I’ve been a lifelong learner.”

Running is the least contrived activity and is second nature to all of us, Nivedita believes. “I find joy and  meditative focus in running. It also makes me less guilty about eating all i like,  to my heart’s content and being healthy and fit. In fact, running in the morning sets me up for the whole day with so much energy that I charge through the day, tackle the day’s opportunities & challenges, accomplish all that I’ve planned and then some!

Speaking about others who want to take up running. Nivedita said, “I think all the people in my age group are regularly following some fitness routine or the other like me so we are all getting prepared in some way or another. Keep consistent in your fitness routine and for those of you who love to walk- just add 30 seconds of slow jogging after 10 minutes of brisk walking and then the next day increase the running in intervals by just 30 seconds. You’ll not notice how soon your 30-45 minutes of walking is done! Simple suggestion,  just keep putting one foot in front of the other and so on while steadily  increasing your pace. “

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